If you look through a microscope at a single drop of ditch water, you will see a thousand odd-looking creatures, such as you never could imagine dwelled in water. They do not look unlike a whole plateful of shrimps, all jumping and crowding upon each other. So fierce are these little creatures that they will tear off each other’s arms and legs without the least mercy, and yet after their fashion they look merry and happy.
Now there was once an old man, whom his neighbors called Cribbley Crabbley—a curious name, to be sure, which meant something like “creep-and-crawl.” He always liked to make the most of everything, and when he could not manage it in the ordinary way, he tried magic.
One day he sat looking through his microscope at a drop of water that had been brought from a neighboring ditch. What a scene of scrambling and swarming it was, to be sure! All the thousands of little imps in the water jumped and sprang about, devouring each other, or tearing each other to bits.
“Upon my word this is really shocking. There must surely be some way to make them live in peace and quiet, so that each attends only to his own concerns.” And he thought and thought, but still could not hit upon any plan, so he must needs have recourse to conjuring.
“I must give them color so that they may be seen more plainly,” said he. Accordingly he poured something that looked like a drop of red wine—but which in reality was witch’s blood—upon the drop of water. Immediately all the strange little creatures became red all over, and looked for all the world like a whole town full of naked red Indians.
“Why, what have you here?” asked another old magician, who had no name at all, which made him even more remarkable than Cribbley Crabbley.
“If you can find out what it is,” replied Cribbley Crabbley, “I will give it you; but I warn you you’ll not do so easily.”
The conjurer without a name looked through the microscope, and it seemed to him that the scene before him was a whole town, in which the people ran about naked in the wildest way. It was quite shocking! Still more horrible was it to see how they kicked and cuffed, struggled and fought, pecked, bit, tore, and swallowed, each his neighbor. Those that were under wanted to be at the top, while those that chanced to be at the top must needs thrust themselves underneath.
“And now look, his leg is longer than mine, so off with it!” one seemed to be saying. Another had a little lump behind his ear,—an innocent little lump enough,—but it seemed to pain him, and therefore the others seemed determined that it should pain him more. So they hacked at it, and dragged the poor thing about, and at last ate him up, all on account of the little lump. One only of the creatures was quiet, a modest little maid, who sat by herself evidently wishing for nothing but peace and quietness. The others would not have it so, however. They soon pulled the little damsel forward, cuffed and tore her, and then ate her up.
“This is uncommonly droll and amusing!” said the nameless magician.
“Yes. But what do you think it is?” asked Cribbley Crabbley. “Can you make it out?”
“It is easy enough to guess, to be sure,” was the reply of the nameless magician; “easy enough. It is either Paris or Copenhagen, or some other great city; I don’t know which, for they are all alike. It is some great city, of course.”
“It is a drop of ditch-water,” said Cribbley Crabbley.